I’ve lived in the UK going on six years at the end of September. And I spent most of that time in the stunning capital of Scotland, Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the home of my heart I think, I’m homesick for that place like no other place I’ve known. I fell in love in Edinburgh and indeed with Edinburgh. And for anyone who’s been there, they’ll tell you, it’s not hard to do. Edinburgh has a kind of charm that seduced me and it’s a bit like a first love that I will think about in the back of my mind and be forever smitten.
And while I could wax lyrical of this magnificent city, it is actually not what I decided to dedicate today’s blog to. Nope, today is about my most recent adopted home: Northern Ireland. (For the uninitiated, Norn Iron is a colloquial term for the place, one of endearment.
Northern Ireland is famous for . . . well, I may as well just say it: The Troubles. A 30 year conflict which, if you ask me, ultimately came down to identity, but I’m oversimplifying . . . by a lot. But that’s not what I want to focus on. Reminders are everywhere, paricularly as you get outside the city centre, murals, flags, painted kerbstones serve as visual territory markers and the violent and frightening imagery still remains.
Yes, Northern Ireland has peace. But there’s still a long road to go.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Northern Ireland has made some amazing progress, we even hosted the MTV European Music Awards this year!
Without further ado, I would like to present a few of my favourite Northern Irish things.
The Harbour Bar in Portrush (maybe Portstewart, I struggle to keep the two separate)
This bar is directly on the harbour and doesn’t feel as though it’s changed much since it opened. Last time Jon and I were up, we had froze our selves solid when body boarding at Whiterock Beach and we sat with a pint of Guinness in front of an open fire, in a small room off the side of the bar. There’s a rather nice restaurant connected to the bar, but the heart and soul is here. Jon brought me up to this pub during my first trip to Northern Ireland and it’s excellent place to warm your frozen body after throwing it into the North Atlantic, before hopping next door for a bite to eat.
The crisps themselves are nice, don’t give me wrong! But it’s the culture that surrounds a humble brand of thinly sliced deep fried potatoes is just charming. I’ve not met a person here who doesn’t like Tayto and the cult of Tayto seems to span across the whole island (though, it should be noted, Tatyo in the south is run by a different company and have a different looking mascot, but it’s still a giant potato). When I’ve come back from Northern Ireland on the ferry, there spins cases of the things on the baggage collection. And they’re made in a castle, which is perhaps what drew them to me most. As soon as I heard about a Tayto Castle, I was destined to visit. It sounded like a a magical, mystical place (it’s a CASTLE!!). Even if it took 5 years to pull it off.
Northern Ireland has it’s own unique breads. The main players are: soda farls, potato farls, and wheaten bread. A farl is most often a quarter of a circle (therefore, a triangle), don’t really know how else to describe it. Soda farls are flatted Irish soda bread, cooked on a griddle. Potato farls . . . are potato bread, rather dense and delicious. And wheaten bread is just brown soda bread. These are simple, uncomplicated breads that are very easy to make at home. I love them for their simplicity, in a world where bread is getting more and more complex, these are quick and in the case of the soda breads, consist of nothing more than flour, buttermilk, and salt. And they come into their glorious own when fried up and served alongside sausages, bacon, eggs, and beans in an Ulster Fry (hangover cure supreme)
Craic is pronounced crack and I think crack would be bad craic. Anyhoo, craic effectively embodies an Irish good time. The word is used casually as in ‘what’s the craic?’ (what’s up?). I don’t know if one could really explain craic, it is something that can only really be experienced . . . and it’s not limited to listening to Irish music and drinking Guinness (though that would be good craic, for example). The other thing I’ve noticed is a craic continuum. There’s the great craic, good craic, a bit of craic. And then it starts to turn. There’s bad craic, and then there’s minus craic (where the craic was so bad, it effectively negated any other craic that could have been had). I think it’s just a delightful and fun word and the use of it in such a diverse way is excellent.
This wee country is most certainly different then my previous home and ‘first love’ as it were. But over the past year, it has grown on me. It has it’s own quirks and charms and Northern Ireland is definitely a place to be seen. I have been equally terrified at the violent murals while awestruck as the natural beauty and warmth of the people that call this place their home.